Monday, December 31, 2012

God, Google and the Search for Answers

Search (verb) 1. to look through carefully in order to find something missing or lost; to examine carefully in order to find something concealed; to explore in order to discover                 --Random House Dictionary

100,000,000,000: that’s how many searches users worldwide undertook on a monthly basis in 2012.  How did I come by this fact? Well…Google of course.  So if you do the math that means on alone, which controls about 70 percent of the search market, folks around the globe last year searched 1,200,000,000,000 times, 1.2 trillion. That’s a lot of searching.  True—most of the time those searches were neither earth shattering nor life altering. 

The search was for the trivial when you were out with friends and wanted to know who played the captain on the TV show “McHale’s Navy”: Joe Flynn, aka Captain Binghamton. On Thanksgiving: how long it takes to cook a 25 pound turkey: six and a half hours at 325 degrees. In the car: how far it is from Boston to Albany: 168.77 miles.  Maybe even at church: what books begin and end the Bible? Genesis and Revelation. 

Did we search this much, seek answers to our questions so obsessively and so frequently before Google?  Probably not. Back then a search would have meant a trip to the library and maybe a perusal through “The Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature”.  (I know you’ve probably never heard of that book. You’ll have to google it.)

I’d like to report the five most popular Google searches in 2012 were profound but mostly they weren’t. In reverse order, or as one website proclaimed “What the World Searched For!”: Diablo 3 (video game), iPad3 (computer), Hurricane Sandy (natural disaster), Gangnam Style (a song) and, the number 1, most searched for, most sought after area of curiosity? Whitney Houston, a pop singer who died of a drug and alcohol overdose. 

I’m not sure what that says about our world and what we are ultimately searching for.  Perhaps this. Google is really, really good at providing answers to certain, clear, and precise inquiries--who, what, where, how—but it is not so great on “Why?”.  If you type “why?” into Google you’ll receive 3,100,000,000 “answers” in .28 seconds, the first result being a link for a website about a California hip hop and indie rock band. 

No. “Why?” is the hardest question of all in the human search for meaning.  It can’t be googled or quickly looked up any where or answered in a single keystroke.  “Why?” is the province of the human heart and soul.  “Why?” is what we ask God or the Universe when we lie in bed at 3 am and ponder our lives or this messy, broken world.  In 2012 “Why?” was what we most heartbreakingly asked when we heard the news…about Newtown… Aurora, Colorado…the shooting of a little girl in Pakistan by the Taliban…the thousands who lost everything in Superstorm Sandy…the chronic inability of our leaders to lead and govern.  “Why?”

So if I had but one prayer to offer for all humanity as we enter 2013 and say goodbye to what was in many ways a hard year for God’s Creation, it would be this. May we all  continue to have the courage to continue to ask “Why?” even as we confess answers may not come.  For when we ask “Why?” we seek a better, deeper life in a way: with more knowledge, wisdom, meaning, and truth.  We go beyond Google to God.  We dig into our faith traditions or seek out new ones and gather in community, because asking “Why” together is always better than asking “Why?” alone. 

Most important: we keep on searching and keep on asking the greatest question of all: “Why?” As the author Richard Bach wrote in his book “Illusions”, “Here is a test to find out if your mission on this earth is finished. If you’re alive it isn’t.” 

See you in the New Year.   

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Have Yourself A Content Little Holiday...

Expectation (noun) 1. the act or the state of expecting: to wait in expectation.
2. the act or state of looking forward or anticipating. --Random House Dictionary

It is now Christmas week, one day post the 25th but still six days to go in our yearly holiday journey.  How’s your spirit doing?  Your yuletide yearnings? Your holiday expectations that got so built up in the days leading up to the 25th?

Strewn about the house is the detritus from the big day.  Scrunched up balls of torn and wrinkled wrapping paper.  A recycling bin overflowing with empty wine and beer bottles.  A half finished carton of eggnog in the refrigerator, a caloric time bomb ticking away.  Your special holiday stretch pants are stretched to the limit. The tree by now may be listing a bit too, ten degrees to the west, groaning under the weight of too little water and too many ornaments. 

December holidays, and all the human hopes that go along with them, have become mighty large in our modern world: promoted, advertized, mythologized and pumped up beyond any realistic outcomes.  Admit it. At this time of year it is so easy to fall victim to an unattainable vision of just how these holly days are supposed to go. 

Everybody is supposed to absolutely love what we got them.  “It’s perfect!”  The Christmas Eve party is supposed to come off without a hitch, every guest fully welcomed, every hor d'oeuvre fully enjoyed.  The tree is supposed to stand true and tall and every ornament hangs just so. The family is supposed to all get along, domestic bliss, a silent night when all is calm, all is bright.  That longed for toy or gadget is supposed to be easily assembled, directions in real English, no missing parts. 

But here’s what happens.  Some gifts are deeply appreciated and some gifts are just tossed over the shoulder of the receiver as they dive into the next bauble.  At the party cousin Victoria got drunk again and stumbled over Rudolf in the front yard but lots of the guests didn’t notice. PHEW!  The tree is pretty but the cat just used it as a litter box. Christmas dinner was delicious but it was kind of sad to remember someone was missing from the table this year.  And it took until 3 am to put together that %$#@& dollhouse!  Expectations hoped for and expectations dashed.

The reality is that Christmas and the holidays are usually like most other days in how they come together and how they fall apart.  There are precious moments when we can’t believe how blessed by God we feel, how wonderful life is. There are sharp times when we get hurt or disappointed.  It snows: YEA!  SLEDDING! It snows. BOO! THE PLANE IS DELAYED!  The turkey is moist and tender and the rolls are burnt to a crisp. Always in life, whether on a special day or just another day, our outcomes usually wind up somewhere in the middle and maybe that’s ok.

There’s a worldwide “happiness” survey that’s been taken the past few years which compares the level of bliss in various countries. Almost every year the Danish win.  The Danes—what’s the deal with that?  They’re frozen out much of the year. They’ve got that midnight sun thing, months and months of winter darkness.  They do well economically but aren’t as wealthy as many other nations. I mean they haven’t even got a Super Bowl! But in the U.S. we ranked 23rd out of 97 nations surveyed in 2009. What gives?

Professor Kaare Christensen at the University of Southern Denmark offers this conclusion. “What we basically figured out is that although the Danes were very happy with their life, when we looked at their expectations they were pretty modest.  By having low expectations, one is rarely disappointed.”

Wise thoughts.  So when it comes to the holidays maybe we would all do well to decrease our expectations and increase our gratitude for the simple gifts of the season.  A warm and safe house.  Folks who love us.  Faith in God who sustains us.  Time off from work.  Just one gift that made us smile.  A glass of sweet eggnog after the kids go to bed. A child home from college. Sitting in front of a brightly lit tree and savoring the quiet.

Me? I’m letting go of all those holiday expectations this year. The perfect holiday may happen in the movies and at Martha Stewart’s house but not here on this imperfect earth in my imperfect life or in my imperfect home and that’s how it is supposed to be.   

Have yourself a content little holiday season! 

The Rev. John F. Hudson is senior pastor of the Pilgrim Church, United Church of Christ, in Sherborn ( If you have a word or idea you’d like defined in a future column or have comments, please send them to or in care of the Dover-Sherborn Press ( 


Monday, December 17, 2012

Hush, O World, Please Just Hush

Silence (noun) 1. the absence of any sound or noise; stillness; the state or fact of being silent; muteness; absence or omission of comment   --Random House Dictionary

Time stopped and then there was silence. That’s the only way I can describe my gut response and sense at the exact second I heard the news about the shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, last Friday. It was that rare spiritual moment when it seemed as if the whole world was hushed and the minutes ceased to tick away on the clock. The earth stopped rotating from day to night.  Everything froze up in mute disbelief. 

When something so awful, so overwhelming, so horrendously unreal happens, that’s our human response.  The circuits in our brains fill to overload with information we can’t compute.  Our hearts fill to breaking with truth we cannot face.  It is all too much.  All we can say is, “Oh my God.”  All we can ask is “Why” and confess we may never, ever receive an answer. 

If I had but one piece of spiritual wisdom to offer to all of us in the wake of this event, and the far too many like it which now happen on a regular basis, it would be that we need silence. Silence and space. To grieve.  To weep. To wonder. To worry.  To be broken but together in our brokenness.  Silence: to light a candle and to pray for ourselves, personally and collectively, and for the victims, for that community.         

Silence and space. Unless we’ve lost a loved one in similar circumstances, none of us can ever even come close to fathoming the grief and pain of Newtown parents and grandparents and educators and neighbors and classmates and first responders. None of us.  We are so far removed as witnesses to this tragedy.  We are bystanders at best and we need to honor this sacred boundary.

But the truth is there may be no such boundaries in our culture anymore. There certainly hasn’t been since the millisecond the Newtown news broke and for that I worry greatly for our world. It’s now all sound and noise and clatter 24/7.  We’ve been drowning under a torrent of knee jerk opinions, presumptuous pontifications and blatantly political declarations since the 14th.  I am exhausted by this.  I just need some silence to take it all in, to think.  How about you?

I get that all of us have thoughts about the event. That’s normal. Yet in 2012 do we really have to immediately share these ideas so publically, so instantaneously, so loudly, on Facebook and on Twitter? On “The Today Show” and “Fox and Friends”? From pulpits and in press conferences?  I am spiritually suffocating under the weight of our national inability to be thoughtful anymore, to be silent, if just for one second, when it comes to our plugged in lives.

Then there is also another weirdness in our culture to lay on top of all this.  Why do we have to now so vicariously, digitally, quickly enter into the suffering of others?  Is it about them?  Is it about us? The motives may be good but the results are unsettling. This too has haunted me in the days after Newtown. 

It is as if none of us knows how to be silent anymore. How to possess an unshared opinion or thought. How to keep raw and unformed ideas to ourselves for just awhile. How to hold a precious and tender hope or grief between us and our God in silent prayer.  How to give ourselves and others the silent space they need to just be.  Instead we now bury each other in an avalanche of digital information with no time to pause or ponder or be still.   

Human life is far too big, messy, awful and awe-filled to be parsed immediately, to be opined or dissected or understood in the seconds it takes to make a status update or send a tweet or post on a blog or write a news story.  Six days after Newtown I feel as if even these words are so woefully inadequate.

Silence. Space. Quiet.  That’s what we all need right now. In the words of Christina Rossetti’s Christmas hymn, “In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone; snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, in the bleak midwinter, long ago.” 





Monday, December 10, 2012

The End of the World As We Know It...I Feel Fine

Doomsday (noun) 1. the day on which the Last Judgment will occur; any day of reckoning; characterized by predictions of disaster --World English Dictionary

Eleven days and counting until the end of the world, Friday, December 21st—or at least that’s the rumor.  If you’re one of the six people in Creation who actually haven’t heard by now, there are tales swirling around the entire globe that the world and all there is within it will cease to exist a week from next Friday.  I guess I should be scared, right?

Because what better authority to trust than a 7,000 year old stone calendar created by the Mayans of ancient Central and South America?  For whatever reason, the calendar ends on the 21st and so many folks around the world see this abrupt numerical cut off as clear and incontrovertible evidence that the end is near. (My theory is that the calendar maker took a coffee break and forgot to come back.)

I suppose I could be petrified, getting ready for the last day of my existence, you know picking up the house, making sure the iron is turned off, packing a suitcase but then I wonder. What does one pack for Armageddon?  Fleece I’ll bet—you never know what the weather might be like.

But thank goodness the United States government, on its blog, has weighed in with its opinion on this cataclysm.  (Who knew Uncle Sam blogged?)  Under the oh so odd headline “Scary Rumors About the World Ending in 2012 Are Just Rumors” we learn: “False rumors about the end of the world in 2012 have been commonplace on the Internet for some time. Many of these rumors involve the Mayan calendar ending in 2012 (it won’t), a comet causing catastrophic effects (definitely not), a hidden planet sneaking up and colliding with us (no and no), and many others. The world will not end on December 21, 2012, or any day in 2012.”

Well I think that’s a relief, though I really wish I hadn’t learned that there are also rumors about a rogue planet or crazy comet crashing right into the earth too.  According to the blog, NASA has received thousands of letters from concerned citizens complaining about the whole planetary mash up thing too. 

Thank goodness the feds are all over these apocalyptic scenarios.  For if any one power can save us from the end of the world, it is…the federal government?  Wait. These are the same folks who are about to drive us over the other impending doomsday, THE FISCAL CLIFF.  So even if the world doesn’t cease to be on the 21st on the 31st the world will end for United States taxpayers! 

On that bleak day, the rivers will run red with blood, and the skies will rain down frogs and folks will drop to their knees and look to the heavens in dread and despair because come New Year’s Day we will careen over THE FISCAL CLIFF! Taxes will rise!  AAAAHHHHH!

But take heart America.  We can trust in the mature leadership of those we have elected to steer us clear of THE FISCAL CLIFF….OK. Maybe not.  But it is fun to type FISCAL CLIFF in all caps.  My advice? Open a bottle of champagne and get in touch with your CPA.

The real truth is that when it comes to the end of the world, whether it be mystically Mayan, or fiscally federal, or comets crashing, there is finally not much we humans can do about it, except one thing.  We can choose to not be afraid, not give into fear. That life attitude is not always easy.

Fear has become big business in our world: in the media, among our leaders and seemingly everywhere.  Fear leads the 11 o’clock news. Fear saturates the Internet. Fear always tries its best to get us to live less than full and abundant lives.  Fear finally tricks us into not having faith in anyone or anything, save the worst case scenario. That’s no way to live.

So up until and right through the 21st and the 31st I’m keeping the faith, in spite of all the fearful rumors and predictions.  Faith in a God who works through everything for the good. Faith in a battered world that always seems to be able to get through to the other side of whatever challenges humankind faces.  Faith in the promise of tomorrow and the miracle of life, just today. 

In the words of that great theologian Bob Marley, “Don’t worry ‘bout a thing, ‘cuz every little things gonna be alright.”  Here’s looking forward to the 22nd.



Monday, December 3, 2012

The Gift of December Darkness

Night (noun) 1.the period of darkness between sunset and sunrise...nightfall...the darkness of night; the dark.                     --Random House Dictionary
So my three “42 Inch Cool White Twinkling LED Snowflake” outdoor Christmas lights returned to action this past Sunday night, after having slumbered away for the past eleven months in my garage. From early December to the first weekend next January, my trio of oversized white plastic flashing hexagons (which can be yours for just $24.99 apiece from Target!) hang from three trees in my front yard. From sundown until midnight, they twinkle away with an otherworldly glow. Not hard to miss. 
Tacky? Gaudy?  Over the top?  To my east I’ve got one neighbor who swears by the understated simplicity of single candles in the windows and a green wreath on the front door illuminated by a spotlight. But then down the street on his front lawn another neighbor plants a life sized plastic blow up Santa Claus striding atop an airplane. Each night Saint Nick inflates and sets down upon a candy cane landing strip.  When it comes to holiday lights, I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Yet it this very human impulse to light up the night at the darkest time of the year which fascinates me.
December is finally about the night more than any other month of the year in this part of the world.  It is dark and will get darker right up until winter solstice on the 21st. Dusky days diminish in natural light. Even at high noon on a clear December day the quality of sunlight is subdued, slanted and diffuse. We arise in the shadows and come home in the dark.  And so in this twelfth month we face a choice: to push back the night, to deny the night and fight or even fear the night or to love the night and all that it brings.
Not easy, for the night and the dark can get a bad rap.  It was in a darkened room as children, after all, that we first learned to fear the night with its imagined bumps from under the bed and shadows on the wall.  Dark is the absence of light, a negative definition.  Thieves forever skulk in the night. Souls full of sin are named as “dark”.  It is at night we struggle the most with worries that seem to only fade away with the sunrise and light. 
But consider the gifts of the dark. It was in the dark God formed us in our mother’s wombs, the dark and warm waters of life. It is on the darkest of night, no moon in sight, no clouds above, when we remember our place in the vast and amazing universe, stars blazing away in an indigo sky. We look up and see the work of the Creator and know everything is made of the same cosmic stuff.  The dark reminds us that we need each other: a hand to hold on to, a friend to depend upon, a family to sit with in front of a warming fire on an ice cold night.
The dark is fully democratic. The star I view from the safety of my suburban front porch is the exact same star the homeless man on Boston Common sees. The night reminds me that he needs me and I need him, for together we each live in one miraculous and interdependent world, forever marked by the light and the dark. If we are going to wade into the night, let’s do it together. 
There is finally no escaping the dark and the night.  It holds us for half of life.  It returns every December. It circles around every afternoon or evening.  So I say put up all of those holiday lights and then go out and buy even more and hang up those flashing and twinkling and pulsating lights too!  Bring it on! Soft and sweet icicle lights that swing from the gutters.  Rudolph the Red Nosed reindeer balanced on a rooftop.  A Hanukah star all ablaze and Joseph and Mary and baby Jesus camped out too, right on Main Street. 
It is all good. It is all light.  It is night. In the words of Sarah Williams, from her poem “The Old Astronomer”, “Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light; I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.”
See you in the dark.